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In the latest in the series about remarkable companies, Making It profiles Mouna Abbassy, the 33-year-old of Moroccan origin who launched her beauty brand, Izil Beauty, in the United Arab Emirates in 2013

Izil Beauty “Izil” means “pure” in the Berber language.

Mouna Abbassy (opposite), winner of the 2015 Cartier Women’s Initiative Award for the Middle East and North Africa region.

36 MakingIt

For a start-up gaining a strong foothold in the highly competitive cosmetics industry is a tall order, but Mouna Abbassy and her husband have created a niche and successfully tapped into the lucrative organic cosmetic market in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) by offering high-quality beauty products that draw on authentic age-old Moroccan traditions. Abbassy moved to Dubai 10 years ago to start a career as a marketing professional for multinational cosmetic brands. Identifying the untapped market for organic cosmetic products made of argan oil and other rare natural ingredients, she saw an opportunity to utilize the Moroccan beauty rituals that she grew up with. Argan oil, which is produced from the kernels of the argan tree that grows in the otherwise barren lands of south-western Morocco, is one of the rarest oils in the world and is hailed as the “liquid gold” of Morocco. It is said that, since the 13th century, the Berber people of North Africa have been making argan oil for culinary and cosmetic purposes. Today, as the beauty industry has woken up to its moisturizing and anti-ageing effects, and as nutritional intervention studies have vigorously tried to prove its beneficial effects on health, argan oil is the latest obsession of the US$430bn personal-care market world-wide and is in high demand. According to Moroccan government data, the country’s exports of argan oil have more than doubled in the past five years, to more than 700 tons, much of which has gone to skin- and hair-care product-makers such as L’Oréal and Unilever. Despite the demand, the method of making argan oil has changed very little. For centuries, Berber women have been engaged in the arduous and timeconsuming tasks of collecting, drying and shelling the plum-size argan nuts, in order to obtain the kernels. The kernels are then crushed and ground in a handmade mill to release the oil. With this traditional method, it usually takes one woman 16 hours, using about 30 kilograms of argan fruits, to produce one litre of oil, which can sell for around US$400 in beauty boutiques worldwide.

Ambassador for Moroccan beauty traditions As a Berber herself, Abbassy grew up eating salad and couscous mixed with argan oil. She was used to seeing local women using natural ingredients including argan oil for skin and hair-care. But it was not until she moved to a foreign country that she started to sense the great business opportunities that this oil could provide. “I noticed that women were shifting from the sophisticated skin-care products to natural and organic skin-care products. Market research companies say that for the past 20 years the market for natural beauty products has grown at an average of 11% every year, and that in the UAE natural and organic products remain niche but have ‘significant’ growth potential.” Meanwhile, the multi-cultural environment in Dubai stirred her entrepreneurial nature. In a recent interview she said, “Entrepreneurship has always been in my blood and I have always dreamed of creating something of my own…Seeing so many different cultures (in Dubai) made me value my own culture and heritage.


Shared prosperity. Issue 20